Tollway promises new transparency policies amid CEO/board member blowup
A move by tollway leaders to reset after controversy over concerns about potential patronage and nepotism was upstaged by a confrontation between the executive director and a board member Thursday.
Board Director Joseph Gomez called out Executive Director Elizabeth Gorman for refusing to meet with him, at which point she asked for a rebuttal and accused the Northfield executive of threatening behavior.
Gomez denied making any threats.
Before the blowup, Chairman Robert Schillerstrom announced he was establishing an ad hoc committee to review conflict of interest and procurement policies and "improve transparency."
The move comes after a state Senate hearing Tuesday on tollway procurement policy sparked by Daily Herald reports on contracts involving firms with political ties to Republicans or connections with tollway executives.
Tollway leaders said they are adhering to all state procurement laws and policies.
"We are following the laws, but we also recognize we can always do things better. We will consider everything to make the tollway function as best as it possibly can. Our goal is to be the best tollway in the world," Schillerstrom said.
Issues reported by the Daily Herald included: hiring House Republican Leader Jim Durkin's sister-in-law as engineering manager, although her background is in furniture sales; using a PR firm whose CEO is the wife of a Republican lawmaker on a $6.6 million contract; and selecting an engineering firm that employs the grown children of tollway executives, including Schillerstrom, for a $157 million contract.
The tollway board is appointed by Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner. Typically, board members and top staff have a cordial relationship, although Schillerstrom and former Executive Director Greg Bedalov, who resigned in February, differed on management issues, sources said. The public airing of grievances between Gomez and Gorman was unprecedented.
Gorman, a former Republican Cook County commissioner, was approved by board members including Gomez a week after Bedalov left. She issued a statement Thursday claiming Gomez had "a history of erratic behavior, violent outbursts and threats to tollway staff."
Although "I have an open-door policy," Gorman said she had taken legal advice and wanted another person present at a meeting with Gomez Thursday morning and he objected.
Gomez frequently asks questions at meetings but said he hasn't threatened the staff or been violent. He resigned as finance committee chairman at a board meeting in April where he walked out after denouncing "bullies" and "cowards."
"My record as an effective member of the toll board and former chairman of the finance Ccommittee stands on its own merits. I've always striven for the taxpayers' best interests," he said.
It was the first time he'd spoken with Gorman since she became executive director, Gomez added.
Gomez said one purpose of wanting to meet with Gorman was to address allegations against him a reader posted online below a Daily Herald story about the Senate hearing. The comment was withdrawn shortly after it was posted Tuesday night.
The tollway's ad hoc committee will be chaired by Schillerstrom and include board members: James Banks, the Rev. Corey Brooks, Rosemont Mayor Brad Stephens and Elk Grove Village Mayor Craig Johnson.